State of the Race — Mark Halperin

Between the volatility in the polls and the ever changing campaign themes (at least from the Obama camp), it is sometimes easy to get lost in the weeds.  Mark Halperin takes a step back and identifies the fundamentals that should continue to drive this race through election day (or at least the next debate):

One, Romney’s campaign trail performance is without a doubt better than it was before, but it is also getting more attention and being given gentler reviews by voters and the Gang of 500. As long as the Republican is on a roll, even the Old Romney will be seen through new, more forgiving eyes.

This is both the bandwagon effect (everyone likes a winner) plus a tacit admission the media were covering Romney unfairly prior to his debate performance.  The media will want access to a Romney Administration so they need to curry favor and cover for their all-out advocacy over the prior months.

Two, the message discipline reversal continues. Romney is running on a theme he can sustain through Election Day (“we can’t afford four more years of Obama”), while Chicago has switched from “Romney is an extremist” to “Romney is a liar who hates Big Bird.” The Obama campaign has some sorting out to do on this, especially in the eyes of the Gang, and, perhaps, with voters.

This is a big deal.  The Obama campaign has no second term agenda that even their staunchest advocates in the media reluctantly concede. Ever since the disastrous first debate performance their campaign and messaging has been floundering while the Romney campaign has sprouted wings. Even today’s juxtaposed Sesame Street ads speak to a substance-less Obama message versus a wonderful jiujitsu reversal to substantive issues like Syria and jobs in the Sesame Street/RNC graphic.

Third, momentum and confidence matter a lot in politics. Until at least the next debate on October 16, Romney and his forces are likely to have more of both, barring some huge intervening event.

This is a cautionary warning to the Romney campaign that folds into the prior point of message discipline. The Romney campaign in the primaries and even during the general election had an uncanny ability to steal its own thunder when events and momentum were on its side.  Coming out of the debate the campaign has achieved the opposite by augmenting their advantages most notably with Romney opening up about the incredible and poignant service he has done in his community for many years with no fanfare.  Absent Europe collapsing (still possible) or another terrorist attack the current framing and construct of the campaign should last until the next Presidential debate — sorry Paul, the VP debate doesn’t matter, just ask President Dukakis.

Fourth, while the horserace poll numbers are eye-catching, watch to see if there is Romney improvement on “cares about people like me” questions and on “has better ideas on the economy and jobs.” Those are among the most critical areas.

There’s more to the empathy issue than meets the eye. While economy and jobs are the overriding principles of this election, we’re down a single percent of Undecided/persuadable voters.  And when they are in the voting booth they need to “feel” comfortable with Mitt Romney.  He’ll never come close to passing President Obama in this category ahead of the election but it would hugely valuable if this softer-side metric continued to rise as the public sees the different side of Romney evidenced by the personal stories he shares.

Fifth, and most important, the President still has an advantage in the Electoral College, both in the individual battlegrounds and in terms of more paths to 270. Whatever progress Romney has made in the wake of Denver, he hasn’t eliminated the Obama edge there, and, obviously, nothing else really matters.

This is the reality of incumbency and what ever more looks like a the 50/50 electorate we had in 2000 and 2004. Obama’s support may be soft underneath in any number of states, but he does have a base support that gets him all the way to 47% no matter how you slice the electorate. It only takes a small amount more to put him over the top.


  1. jvnvch
    Posted October 9, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink | Reply

    I’m not sure President Obama will get even 47% of the popular vote, personally, but I’m relatively sure he will get close to that percentage. I can’t see him getting less than 45%, under any circumstances, or more than 48%, under any circumstances. I don’t see how he can get much more than 46%, actually, under the circumstances he has helped create for the country, and for himself.

  2. ed
    Posted October 9, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink | Reply

    To me, given that Mitt’s get out the vote fundamentals are in place, the debates have always been one area where Mitt needed just to tie O in order to win this election . Well, the contention that Mitt would merely tie Obama, is now academic. Building on the first debate momentum team R&R did a brilliant move. They went out and broadened his message to include a strong foreign policy component. This allows voters to see now for the first time the full extent of what a Romney presidency would look like. It is my belief/ prediction/diagnosis, that what voters are now seeing makes them feel VERY COMFORTABLE with a prospective Romney presidency. They want to fire Obama, just like they did Carter in 1980.

    The presidency is an integrated role where personal principles find expression on both the domestic and foreign policy levels. Romney now has a broad sweep of policy approaches to show voters he offers theoretically consistent and pragmatically tempered solutions to the issues America now faces. With this in hand, the next debate offers Mitt his best opportunity to put an end to the Obama dream (and our nightmare). Remember, it is the first time many voters will actually hear Obama have to defend his foreign policy against a sustained attack. The MSM has been absent. Most voters have only heard rumored accounts of Obama’s record. Its pretty clear to me that the MSM’s failure to inform the public of the extent of O’s foreign policy “mishaps” makes their first airing a potentially psychic shock for America’s voters. Remember, 40-60 million people living outside the bubble will finally be told how Obama proposed a smart diplomacy that called for America to transcend old alliances. Transcendence would be beget triangulation, and triangulation is “smart” because you can be everyone’s friend at the same time!!! By abandoning friends, America would be repaid, we were told, with our adversary’s respect. By means of verbal engagement and unilateral disarmament, we would prevent aggression against us and a more stable world order, because we were “respected”. Well Mitt will ask that Obama account for how his Cairo speech resulted in the 9/11/12 disaster. And a cover-up to boot. So much for “smart diplomacy”. Obama’s record cannot be hid in a debate. 70 years of middle east “realpolitik”, crafted by both Democrat and Republican administrations, lost in a matter of 1 or 2 years. As Mike Holmes would say “unacceptable”.

    I’ve not been caught up in the schadenfreude so many have indulged in in recent days. I never was impressed by O’s cognitive gifts so I knew Mitt would do well. Of course I never would have predicted the drubbing that occurred. So for the record, the next debate will be another serious drubbing of the President. There is little doubt the intellectual asymmetries favoring Mitt actually do SHOW on the debate stage. They are palpable. And this is key!!! My gut tells me Obama is aware he is not a match for Romney, but his personality and record prevents him from making the necessary adjustments. Biden by contrast will make it close with Ryan. Obama, on the other hand, will try to overcompensate by appearing aggressive (Alpha male style) but this will fail because now, unlike anytime in his political history, Obama has a record to protect, and that record on foreign policy is horrendous.

    To be sure, foreign policy, as a substantive matter, may not be the issue that turns the election, but what matters here is “optics”. And there are no better optics for Romney than publicly dismantling this President, and showing him yet again as an incompetent pretender. It is the hammer blow which will win Romney PA, MI, OH, VA, FL, CO, IA and the Presidency.

    The 10/16/2012 debate will be Mitt’s chance to show, pure and simple,10/3/2012 was no fluke.The third debate will matter, only to the extent Mitt fails to submit O in the second.

  3. Posted October 9, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Once again, the 47% number is a key to this election. Obama will NEVER go below 47%. His base is much larger, and much more solid than Romney. The fundamentals behind this election favor Romney, but Romney has limits to how high he can rise. It is generally easier for Obama to peal away Romney voters than it is for Romney to peal away Obama voters. If the election were held today, Romney would win. The 2nd debate is crucial, and Romney avoiding gaffes the next four weeks is also crucial. Even the slightest gaffe from Romney could bring those voters back to Obama.

    • Edward
      Posted October 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink | Reply

      you make good points….

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